There I was, on my first day of a brand new course, eager and keen to learn how to be a trainer. As usual, I was a bit nervous ...
The first session was about how we learn, and the trainer began her lesson asking us for an example of how we had learned something. I forget the details of what others said; I do remember my turn. My opening sentence was to say that sometimes I learnt through an "aha moment".
Before I could add any detail the trainer cut in with "I don't believe in aha moments" and without either giving an explanation or allowing me to respond, moved onto the next person.
I then spent the rest of the session feeling foolish, and I went right back to schoolgirl behaviour, refusing to actively participate. If I remember rightly, I never finished that particular course at all and chose a different career path in management. As time went on, I forgot about the incident.
However, over the years in management, I found myself teaching and training others both formally and informally. One particular person brought back my memory of the incident when she remarked that she liked my teaching style because she got "so many light bulb moments" from it, at which point, I had my own epiphany.
It wasn't me who had been foolish that day long ago. Since then I have learnt a lot more about how to help others learn in all sorts of way, but I still get a special thrill of pleasure when people get an "aha moment" when learning with me.
Not believing in aha moments is a silly thing to say. There is an extensive literature on the subject, and the phenomena appear to have a long history. Most of us learnt at school about Archimedes leaping out of his bath and running down the road in excitement shrieking, "Eureka!", though we may not remember why.
Don't forget St Paul and his epiphany on the road to Damascus and, more recently, Einstein with his famous equation E = MC2. My bet is you have your own, perhaps less exalted, experiences as well.
The latest findings in neuroscience and psychology confirm the insight jumps out at you all of a sudden. This makes us think it's a sudden process rather than the endpoint of a process that may have been brewing for some time.
The research suggests that the brain has been quietly working away on the subject behind the scenes trying out lots of different connections and relationships until it spots a novel one that grabs your attention.
A good metaphor is like those Chinese puzzles that you twist and manoeuvre this way and that for ages and you feel you will never solve until, with a different twist, suddenly the correct shape snaps into place.
How can you use this knowledge to help you with your own learning to find new ways to understand something you're struggling to understand or solve a problem.
Here are my tips drawn from my own experience of different types of light bulb moments.
- Challenge the status quo and develop a whole new paradigm or way of looking at the world. While it does help to have a high IQ and an enquiring mind, more importantly, it helps to ask the stupid questions and make those new connections.
Like Einstein imagining what it would be like to look out the window while travelling at the speed of light, yet few of us aspire to that level.
The rest of us mere mortals could just to explore the things we take for granted. What would happen if we took those to extremes and did more of it or less of something?
We believe networking will generate us business, so what might happen if we networked every day from breakfast until we went to bed? Alternatively what might happen if we never went to another networking event?
- Seek out alternative points of view and encourage your peers and others to challenge your thinking. Listen to your critics as well as our fans. Feed those new pathways.
While researching this blog post, one writer preferred to call 'insights' as 'nurturing seeds' rather than flashes of inspiration. Maybe that what my trainer meant all those years ago? I never challenged her to find out.
- Mix it up a bit. We tend to keep our knowledge in separate boxes like we do with our budgets. How about, whatever the problem, we put all the subjects in one big box, shake it about a bit and spill it all out together.
I love doing this with people. Mixing people from very different types of business together getting them to listen to each other, so often the "aha moments" pop out straight away as they identify ways they can help each other.
- Revise what you already know in both senses of the word. Go back and explore what you have already learned as it's amazing how much we forget to apply.
Then correct your assumptions about what you know. What's been discovered since you learnt that, does it still apply, did it ever really work out how you expected it to?
- Be open to taking in new knowledge. Does it add or take away from what you already know? Nothing brings this home more to me more than the current technology explosion where new concepts jostle with old ideas disguised in new vocabulary, and need to sort fact from fantasy is even harder. Wasn't fake news called propaganda a few years ago?
- If all this sounds like a jumble and adds to confusion, then realise that this is a necessary part of the process. Out of chaos comes order. Your brain is cleverer than you think and will work tirelessly to find the right connections if you allow it the time and space and feed it new connections.
Of all the things that help new insights to emerge, switching off seems to work best. Insights emerge at all times and at their own pace, but most of us recognise that they frequently occur when we've stopped focusing on them.
Back where we started with Archimedes in the bath!
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